Donors pledge over $680 million to rebuild scorched Notre Dame
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Donors pledge over $680 million to rebuild scorched Notre Dame

French luxury group Kering, whose brands include Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, kicks off campaign with $113 million pledge

Inspectors are seen on the roof of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 16, 2019, the day after a fire ripped through its main roof. (Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)
Inspectors are seen on the roof of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 16, 2019, the day after a fire ripped through its main roof. (Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

PARIS, France — Pledges from France’s corporations and richest families to help rebuild the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris have topped 600 million euros ($680 million), according to an AFP tally of donations announced so far.

The latest major contribution came from French cosmetics giant L’Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family, which gave 200 million euros ($226 million) to the reconstruction effort. as foundations and crowd-sourcing sites also launching fund-raising drives.

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed the emblematic monument will be rebuilt after its spire and roof collapsed Monday night in a blaze thought to be linked to extensive renovation work.

French luxury group Kering, whose brands include Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, kicked off the campaign late Monday with a promise of 100 million euros ($113 million).

That was followed Tuesday by a 200 million euro ($226 million) pledge from its crosstown rival LVMH and the family of its founder Bernard Arnault.

The chief executive of French oil giant Total said the firm would contribute 100 million euros ($113 million).

Other high-profile French donors so far included the investor Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere with 10 million euros ($11 million), and construction magnates Martin and Olivier Bouygues, also with 10 million euros.

Pledges were also pouring in from anonymous donors to groups including the privately run French Heritage Foundation, which said it had already secured pledges totaling 1.6 million euros ($1.8 million).

On a more modest scale, a fund set up by an “anonymous Parisian” on the Leetchi fundraising platform had topped 20,000 euros ($22,600) at midday Tuesday.

People hug while looking at Notre Dame de Paris on April 16, 2019 in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral. (Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

And the Hungarian city of Szeged promised to donate 10,000 euros ($11,300) to the reconstruction effort, in recognition of the help it received from the French capital after a devastating flood in 1879.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said Tuesday that the city would unlock 50 million euros ($56 million), and proposed holding an international donors’ conference in the coming weeks to coordinate the pledges to restore the gothic architectural masterpiece.

Specialized craftsmen and rare materials are also expected to be needed to restore the monument, which welcomes around 13 million visitors each year — an average of more than 35,000 people a day.

The head of a French lumber company told AFP he would try to gather the 1,300 oak beams he figures are necessary to rebuild the intricate lattice that supported the now-destroyed roof, known as the “Forest.

But Sylvain Charlois of the Charlois group said finding big enough logs would not be easy, since “there aren’t any stocks of cut wood in France available for a project this big.”

The United Nations’ Paris-based cultural agency UNESCO has promised to stand “at France’s side” to restore the site, which it declared a world heritage site in 1991.

The German and Italian governments have also offered to help in the reconstruction, while Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to send “the best Russian specialists with rich experience in the restoration of national heritage monuments.”

The painstaking renovation work is likely to cost hundreds of millions of euros over several years, if not decades, though experts breathed sighs of relief that the damage was not even worse.

A gargoyle watches over Paris from the top of the 11th century Notre Dame cathedral, Jan. 10, 1996 (AP Photo/Remy De La Mauviniere)

The steeple of the gothic edifice had been undergoing an 11-million-euro ($12.4-million) overhaul financed by the French state to repair damage inflicted by time, pollution and the weather.

But it also relies heavily on individual donations for repairs, and a few years ago created a US-registered charity letting American voters deduct gifts from their taxes.

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